HOUSTON, Texas - Jed Ortmeyer apologizes for the cliché when he says he lives every day like it’s his last.
Diagnosed in 2006 with a blood disorder that makes his blood clot too easily, the Houston Aeros’ right-winger plays with a highly increased risk of injury.
The blood thinning agent he’s required to inject himself with when he plays makes cuts and bruises, standard issue for professional hockey players, not-so-standard for Ortmeyer.
Photo by John Royal
“It’s a routine that obviously if I want to keep playing, I have to continue to do it,” said the 32-year-old Ortmeyer, veteran of 309 NHL games. “For me, it’s kinda given me a second lease on my life, obviously, and my hockey career. I enjoy playing hockey, I love being around the guys and just the camaraderie that comes with it, so for me I just didn’t feel like I was ready to be done, so I found a way to continue to play.”
To watch him play, you’d never know he was putting his life on the line every shift. He’s not a scorer who can dance around defensive pressure. On the contrary, his on-ice role for the Aeros, is on the checking line and penalty kill, where he regularly puts himself in the line of fire.
“He’s a great role player,” said coach Mike Yeo. “He’s going to give you an honest effort each and every night, and the little things that he does just as far as being in good position defensively and making the right decisions with the puck.”
Off-ice, however, Aeros coaches might have even more appreciation for Ortmeyer’s role as a steady veteran who has earned his teammates’ ears by first earning their respect.
“I think he’s a guy that has a very good pulse for what the team needs to hear at that time,” said Yeo. “Whether it’s between periods, whether it’s on the bench, he’s a guy who, when things get a little big hectic and he needs to calm them down, he’s quick to do that. Or when things are a little bit sleepy, he’s quick to pick the guys up.”
As soon as Ortmeyer joined the team on Jan. 1, and skilled winger Patrick O’Sullivan was assigned to Houston by parent club Minnesota Wild, the Aeros went on a winning spree that lasted into February.
But they’ve struggled to the tune of 5-5-0-2 since Feb. 17 and that’s where Ortmeyer’s easy-going, grateful approach to the game keeps the lows from feeling too low.
“There’s a bigger picture,” Ortmeyer said. “I think at this point in the season, you get banged up and start to mentally get a little bit fatigued. So, you have to have the idea of having fun, making sure that coming to the rink everyday is fun.”
Essentially, the message to his teammates is not to throw good energy after bad. It’s a message he’s earned the right to deliver by learning it the hard way: Though adversity that might have led less tenacious players to hang up their skates.
Beyond his medical condition, or possibly in part because of it, for the first time in his career, the NHL season started without Ortmeyer having a contract. But just like he did with his medical condition, he found a way to stay in the game.
Photo by Chris Jerina
“I knew it was going to be tough coming off of (double sports hernia) surgery and with my age and with my condition, I think teams are maybe looking to give some young guys an opportunity,” he said. “I thought that with some injuries and whatnot, teams would come calling, but they weren’t, so I just had to do what was best for me and that was to start playing any way possible.”
So the man who played 76 games for the San Jose Sharks the prior season took the best opportunity he had: a 25-game professional tryout with the San Antonio Rampage. But due to the veteran rule in the AHL, he was routinely a healthy scratch as the team rotated through its veteran players.
But not only did Houston have room for a veteran, the Wild needed experienced depth on their farm team, and they jumped on the chance to sign him to a 2-way NHL deal.
“You want to be in the NHL and everybody’s goal is to play there,” said Ortmeyer, who has played 3 games with the injury-plagued Wild so far. “But there’s still a great opportunity here and it’s a great experience, so it’s been a lot of fun for me.”